Not only was the moment so excruciating. So much has been written about the defining moment of the FA Cup Final 1983 that it’s probably hard to generate fresh interest from Brighton fans on Gordon Smith’s choker. Happily, Nick Hancock and Chris England’s amusing and fascinating ‘What Didn’t Happen Next’, published in 1997, imagined the repercussions had the Scotman’s put his effort away. It makes for a delightful read:
Gordon Smith can hear the men he now works with on the phone sometimes. ‘I’m working with Gordon Smith … yes, that one.’ Gordon Smith should have scored. He’d even scored a last-minute winning goal in a Cup final before, for Rangers in the 1978 Scottish League Cup.
Mind you, haven’t we all. I know my garden frequently echoed to the sound of a familiar voice – mine – declaring:
‘It’s Hancock! What drama! In the dying seconds he has the chance to clinch the Cup for Stoke … and he’s done it! A shot so fierce that United keeper Paddy Roche has been carried through the net and impaled upon some railings here at Wembley.
‘And dramatic news! The United directors have decided to disband the club, such is the finality and power of the goal. Chairman Edwards has just commented: “What’s the point? We can never compete with a club like Stoke and their brilliant if slightly overweight striker Hancock. l’ve suspected it all along, but now I may as well admit it. We are shit.”‘
In 1983 Gordon Smith was in a position to live the dream. Wembley. The Cup final. The last minute. Manchester United 2, Brighton and Hove Albion 2. Michael Robinson had broken away, and the beleaguered defence was drawn to him like Stan Collymore to a signing-on fee.
Robinson slipped the ball to the unmarked Smith, who steadied himself as the commentator – and very likely Gordon himself – cried: ‘Smith must score!’, and fired the ball at the keeper’s legs. If only Coronation Street uniped Don Brennan had been his opponent, this tale would have had a different ending. As it was, it was blond Brad Willis lookalike Gary Bailey, and he made the save.
Inevitably United won the replay easily, and Brighton left Wembley empty-handed.
Relegation to the Second Division was hardly consolation – although the prospect of Second Division football would today have Brighton fans leaping about and counting the days till next season.
Yes, as I said, this book was published in 1997…
But what if Smith had notched?
The most profound repercussions would have fallen on Smith himself, and not all of them that welcome. The close proximity of Michael Robinson, a strapping lad of no fixed hairstyle, would almost certainly have meant that Smith was in line for a lingering and passionate congratulatory kiss from the Eire international, and it is this prospect which many experts believe may have caused Smith’s fateful hesitation.
Brighton would have held on to Gary Stevens (a good thing) and Steve Foster (a good thing for Luton Town), whose Brian May hairstyle is coveted by Manager Jimmy Melia.
The European Cup Winners’ Cup campaign would have been a brief flirtation – a la Robbie Williams and Anna Friel – with the Seagulls crashing out 4-0 on aggregate to Hungarian cable TV operators Videoton.
United sack Ron Atkinson for his lack of success, and for his tactlessness in wearing more silverware at Wembley than the club has picked up in recent years.
Candidates to replace Big Ron include ordinary-sized Ron Saunders, John Toshack and Graham Taylor, the manager with the Midas touch at Lincoln and Watford.
Taylor gets the job, and clears out Bailey, Muhren, Wilkins and Coppell, and, after a surprise auditor’s report, Nobby Stiles, who United had mistakenly kept under contract since 1974. By keeping very quiet and hiding behind a boiler, Nobby had, without kicking a ball, been drawing a wage of thirteen guineas a week.
At Brighton, Jimmy Melia, the man who’d managed them to Cup triumph, is also sacked for supposed ‘financial irregularities’. Apparently, the substantial cash rewards the Cup had brought had gone missing, and investigations revealed that Melia had blown it all on a series of dubious hair restoration and transplant schemes, which left Brighton in dire straits but Jimmy looking like Michael Bolton.
Graham Taylor puts silverware on the United mantelpiece within three years, and many of that Third Division championship winning side are still held in much affection by the supporters of Manchester City.
Nick Hancock’s mould-breaking unfunny bloopers video, And Smith Did Score, is a best-seller in the Brighton area, where Gordon Smith has become the town’s very popular mayor.
In a parallel universe far, far away, it really did happen…